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Institute of Asian and Oriental Studies

Power and Civil Society in Japan: The Continuing Exercise of Vertical Control within a Socio-Cultural Field

Prof. Dr. Jeffrey Broadbent, University of Minnesota
October 30, 2014, 16:15–18:00
University of Zurich, Main Building, Room KOL H-317, Rämistrasse 71, 8006 Zürich


My thesis, illustrated with several kinds of evidence, is that the Japanese state ministries (bureaucracies) enjoy considerable autonomy from control by the Parliament (Diet) and the Prime Ministerial Cabinet. The national structure of power at its core consists of a shifting power game among three main actors, the Ministries, the corporatistically-organized business sector, and the political coalition in control of the Lower House. The typical specific pattern since 1955 has been the Economic Ministry (MITI, METI), the peak business association (Keidanren), and the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). Since the 1990s, the opposition Democratic Party (Minshuto) has gained occasional political power, but even then, while cooperating with the Environmental Ministry, has faced intransigent opposition from METI and Keidanren. Even though the number of associations in civil society has mushroomed since the NGO law allowing incorporation went into effect, the conservative ministries, in conjunction with the LDP and Keidanren, have worked to corral and control this burgeoning herd of local associations. One of the most effective methods of control, very much continuing to the present day, is for ministries to give local associations funding, which they often cannot obtain from the public, but in return place a retired bureaucrat on their Board of Directors to shape the stances and policies of the association. This method of social control has, in its latest instance, very much reduced in size, duration and institutionalization the ground swell of protest against the resumption of nuclear power.